22 Soccer Tactics, Positions Tips, Formations, Drills
Overcoming a Tough Loss
Pushing Up vs. Defending Deep When Attacking
How to Teach Field Movement

Following is a letter I received from a soccer coach who had a tough loss and my recommendations for quickly improving his team.

Dear SoccerHelp,

I found SoccerHelp.com out of desperation this week after a humiliating 7-0 loss in our first soccer game with my U9 team. I've been coaching for several years, very successfully I might add, but only with younger boys and no more than four on a side. Unfortunately, my team is not the most skilled team in the league. Instead, most of our players are "leftovers" from teams that decided to go more competitive or load their rec. team with better players.  

I have 13 boys on my soccer team, of which only 3 would I consider good players for their age. One these three has fantastic ball control skills, but just doesn't want pass. The other two are strong natural forwards. I have one player on my team who has absolutely no athletic ability, skill, or stamina. On top of that I have two other very weak players. The remaining seven are not quite average.  

I find it interesting that all but my best three players want to play goalkeeper. Actually, three of the average players above, are in fact, above average goal keepers. Unfortunately, none of my worst three players has any ability in goal, even though they want to play.  

I've been scouring your premium website for the last day trying to figure out what kind of formation to use with this group of kids. We played a 2-3-2 formation in our first game and I encouraged our defensive backs to push up (as was instructed by our leagues' coaches "coach"). The other team played a 3-2-2, and never let the defensive backs push up beyond mid-field. Even though our "good" forward was able to retrieve a few balls in the attacking third, they were never able to completely penetrate, as their CDB always seemed to break up the play. Needless to say we suffered from a severe case of bunch ball, and had 3-4 goals scored on breakaways.

The only bright spot in the game was goal keeping. Our keepers faced at least 15-20 odd man rushes and broke up two-thirds of them. Had we had one of our weaker players in goal, we probably would have lost 12-0 instead of 7-0, so I'm very nervous about allowing these boys (who really want to play goalkeeper) play goalie.  

So I have a couple of questions if you have the time:

  1. What might be my best soccer formation, and what should I do with my best 3 players who all want to play forward?
  2. What should I do with my 3 weak players, especially the really, really weak one?
  3. Should I limit the number of soccer goalkeepers to 3 or 4 and not let some of the others have a try at it during a real game? I've given all that want to play a chance in practice, but half of them would be an absolute disaster if they ever get shot on (one even ducked when a boy went to shoot the ball).

At this point I don't have lofty goals. I'd be happy if the boys were able to play competitive in some of their games and get a few goals. I'd hate for them to get beat 5 or 10 to 'nil every week.

Any thoughts are greatly appreciated.



Hi Sal,

First, thanks for being a Premium member.

Before I figured out a better way (the SoccerHelp way), when I coached Rec soccer I would always have my Fullbacks "Push Up". The idea was that they would support my attack and create an offside trap. But if you think about it, it makes no sense given your circumstances and it really didn't make any sense given mine... the natural result is what happened to you -- you get killed and demoralized because the opposing fast Forwards will get many chances to score on breakaways against your slow Fullbacks. Here's an analogy: in American football if you ask your corners to cover a much faster receiver tight they will get burned for touchdowns. Or in basketball, if you ask a slow defender to come up to the half line to guard a fast forward, does that make any sense? Obviously not.

It doesn't make sense to Push Up slow unskillful defenders against fast, skillful Forwards. NOW, if you had a soccer Travel Team, a College team or a Pro team and had defenders as fast as the opposing Forwards, then YES, push them up, because that will help. But, as you saw, against faster Forwards you will just give up a lot of breakaways if your Fullbacks are slower. Also, how well can unskillful players support your attack anyway? The risks far outweigh the potential advantages.

If you had NOT given up the breakaways it would have been 3-0.

So, here are some ideas that I recommend to you:

  1. Defend Deep and Don't give up goals on breakaways. NO EASY GOALS! Make your opponent earn their goals. This means you CANNOT push up slow Fullbacks. Since you don't have fast Fullbacks, your Fullbacks must "Defend Deep". If you doubt the success of this strategy, read the Premium Testimonials. Tell your Fullbacks to NOT go past the top of the Penalty Box.
  2. Defend the most important parts of the soccer field and Don't defend the least important parts. You don't have the speed, stamina or skill to defend the entire field, so you MUST defend the most important parts and not defend the least important parts. If you had the speed and stamina to defend it all, GREAT, but you don't.
  3. Stay strong in the Center of the Field. The Center is the area between the 2 goals, as opposed to the "wings"... it is where a Center Fullback or Center Midfielder might play. This means DON'T give up easy goals straight down the Center -- force the opponents to the outside (to the wings). If you force them to the wings, your players will have time to drop back to "recover" on defense.
  4. Protect your Goal Front. Ask yourself: Can my opponent score on crossed headers from the corners? Few U-9 teams can. If they can't score from the corners, why defend them in the corners? Let the opponent have the corners.(If your opponent can score from the corner or can launch successful attacks from there, then you will be forced to pressure the ball when it is in the corner, but only a good team will be able to hurt you from there and usually will have to be U-11 or older).
  5. Give your team and the players on your team a chance to be successful. When I started coaching I tried to let every player play where they wanted. If your league really wants coaches to do that they shouldn't keep score, and they should balance the teams so each coach has equal quality. You have an obligation to everyone to have a FUN experience. You can't have much fun if you get humiliated. If you lose all your games, kids will stop coming; even the weak players you are letting play positions they can't play. NO one will be happy. Trust me -- I've been there and done that. On the other hand, if you let kids play where they can be successful and your team wins some games, most of the kids and parents will ultimately be happier.
  6. Buy Soccer Incentive patches and use them to motivate your players to do what you want and to reward the behavior you want. Right now you are rewarding players by letting them play positions they want to play. The Patches let you motivate them to do what you want them to do: Good defense, assists, hustle, brave play, winning the ball, listening to the Coach, staying in position, coming to practice, etc. The Patches change the entire dynamic. They really work -- read the Patch Testimonials. We will sell over 500,000 patches this year. If you can't iron them on uniforms, read "Where to Put Patches" for other ideas such as T-Shirts, banners, a display board, jackets, socks, backpacks, etc.
  7. Soccer Positions Teaching Tip - Teach your Left side and Right side players (e.g., RFB and LFB) to NOT go past the Center of the field except in an emergency. This will help stop the Bunching and will help ensure you have players in the Center even if the ball is on the Far side.
  8. Play a 2-1-3-1 soccer formation, "Defend Deep" and leave your fast Forward Pushed Up all the time as a "Target Forward". This formation gives you strength in the Center and an extra "layer" (4 instead of 3). It is 2 Fullbacks, a Stopper, 3 Midfielders and a Target Forward. By Defending Deep and using a Stopper, you shouldn't give up any breakaways. This formation also allows you to "hide" weak players at RMF and LMF.
  9. Assigning Soccer Positions - Put one of your best players at Stopper, the other at CMF and the selfish scorer at Forward. The patches will help reward and motivate players to play the positions YOU want them to play. Do NOT give a patch for scoring goals -- scorers get lots of positive feedback. DO give patches for tough defense, bravery, winning the ball, assists, staying in position, coming to practice and other things you want to encourage.
  10. Only let the 3 good Goalkeepers play in the Goal. In fact, it will be simpler to get down to 2 (one for each half). If the other players or parents make an issue of it, tell them that they can practice at home and you will be glad to give them a try, but that only the best 3 will get to play in goal and who plays is up to the Coach. If any parent says anything, point out that you lost 7-0 and that you have to give the team a chance to be successful or no one will have any fun... you can't sacrifice everyone's fun just so a kid can be in goal when he isn't a good Goalie. If a kid is serious, they will practice at home and improve... BUT, your decision must be based on performance, not just practicing at home.
  11. You don't have the talent to play a "possession/short passing" style of attack and if you try you will lose most of your games. Your best chance of winning is to leave a fast Forward Pushed Up and kick long balls onto the Attacking Half (the Half the opponent's goal is on) and hope to get breakaways. This will at least keep the ball out of scoring range on your side and will keep your opponent from getting easy goals. You can try to encourage some combination passing in the Attacking Third.
  12. Soccer Positions - Read "Stopper Importance" on Premium.
  13. "Rules" to teach your Forward (Soccer Positions Teaching Tips):
    • To NOT come closer to your goal than the inside of the Center Circle. THIS IS CRITICAL. This will keep 2 opposing Fullbacks from pushing up onto your side. Your Forward will get impatient and want to come closer, but you MUST make him stay Pushed Up and if he won't, replace him. His job is to win the long kicks so he can get breakaways. If he does his job, reward him with patches.
    • You are fortunate to have a Forward with enough skill to "take on" and penetrate the opposing defense. Let him do that. In fact, encourage it. He will score some. Encourage the CMF to trail the play and watch for rebounds. Perhaps you will eventually get some teamwork. but that is rare at U-9. I would rather have one great dribbler who can "take on" the defense than 2 average players. If he can attack from the side he might have a better chance than attacking straight on... but I'm not sure how to cause this to happen.
  14. Teach Your Fullbacks these "Rules" (Soccer Positions Teaching Tips):
    1. Clear the ball STRAIGHT AHEAD. That way your Stopper, MF's and Forward can shift with the ball and know that it will be cleared straight ahead.
    2. Tell the RFB and LFB to not go past the Center of the goal except in an emergency -- show them where the Center is.
    3. DON'T go inside the Goal Box except in an emergency (this way they will stay out of the Goalies way).
    4. DON'T go more than a pass past the "Near Post" (show them what this means - about 10 steps). This will keep the Near FB from getting pulled far away from the Goal Front. When the ball is toward the corner, the Near FB should have shifted toward it and the Far FB should have shifted to the Center of the Goal, the Stopper should be the First Defender of the ball in the corner and the CMF should have come to the Penalty Box Arc to protect against crosses to that area.
  15. "Rules" for your Midfielders (Soccer Positions Teaching Tips):
    1. When your Goal is under attack, your MFs should stay a pass away from the ball AND SHIFT with the ball, BUT the RMF and LMF should not cross the Center.
    2. When your Forward is attacking, let your CMF come into the attack and go into the opponent's Penalty Box, but tell your RMF and LMF to shift toward the Center and try to stay between the ball and your goal AND tell them to NOT go into the Penalty Box. That way they won't get in the way of your attacking players AND will be in position to stop a cleared ball or at least slow down a Counterattack.
  16. Responsibilities when the ball is in the Corner on your Defensive Third. When the ball is toward the corner, the Near FB should have shifted toward it (but no farther than a pass past the Near post - about 10 steps) and the Far FB should have shifted to the Center of the Goal, the Stopper should be the First Defender of the ball in the corner and apply "Passive Pressure" (do NOT rush the ball), and the CMF should have come to the Penalty Box Arc to protect against crosses to that area.
  17. Tell your players that teamwork means that every one MUST do their job and trust their teammates to do their jobs, and that you will only expect them to do THEIR job.
  18. Read "Aggressive Receiving" on Premium
  19. Play the Dribble Across a Square soccer drill 3 times to start every practice and play "Dribble Around Cone & Pass Relay Race" a lot and use it to teach "Aggressive Receiving".
  20. If you Defend Deep and teach the player how to Clear the ball, you can put an unskilled player at Fullback, even if he is slow. BUT, you CANNOT put a timid or scared player at Fullback or you will get killed. The only place for you to put weak, timid players is at RMF and LMF and just alternate them at those 2 positions. Be sure to Praise your FBs in front of the entire team and give them bravery patches (the red/white patch, sometimes called a Blood Patch) for tough, brave play.
  21. On the Video Clips, watch Coach Doug's video clip titled How to Use Patches for Fun and to Motivate Players
  22. Teach soccer Coaching Rule No. 3: "On the other team's goal kicks, punts, throw-ins & free kicks, mark up behind an opponent & then step in front & steal the ball, or, if the ball goes past you, box out the opponent and win the ball". (A progression from 1 & 2 above). (An exception to this would be when the other team has a free-kick near your goal, where if there is room, you should have your players stay away from your goal so you create an "offside trap" which will keep the other team away from your goal and make it harder for them to score on a header or off a rebound). How to teach Coaching Rule No. 3 is explained in No. 2 of Quick Team Improvement Program. Quick Team Improvement Program 

I hope this helps. Please let me know. If you do what I recommend, I believe the results will exceed your expectations. These recommendations are based on the experiences I have had with hundreds of coaches. Again, don't expect good results from just following a few of these recommendations. If you want the best results, follow them all. If you have doubts, read the Testimonials.

David at SoccerHelp  


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